Since Parliament has still not made up its mind as to what should constitute the statutory public holidays for this country, I wish to make a special plea for the inclusion of November 19, to be called the National Pluralism Day, to commemorate the historic moment of 1300 hours Ghana Mean Time (GMT) Saturday 19 November 1994, when we broke the chains of bondage of state-management and control of the airwaves for the first time.
Whether the chains will remain off forever, or even last as long as the revolution which has palpably failed to stop the decay, will depend on whether we have at least learnt that those who yelled “we no gonna sit down…”,to get up to the throne will not let go voluntarily of their ‘Boston strangler’ grip on our freedoms to speak freely and be better informed about our own lives.
Like the wrestler offered a little breather just as he is about to be counted out, the people of Accra have taken to ‘Radio Eye’ in a most refreshing and encouraging manner. Given that all it has done so far is to play music, the public’s joy has more to do with its great sense of relief that which it had hitherto deemed to be impossible has now happened.
Like the proverbial ducks taking to water, everyone of us has been itching for years to jump into the waters of choice and better informed broadcasting, but we were not sure whether were allowed to do so, or even worse that if we dared, we will not be forcibly drowned. And so we stood on the edge, taking comfort from the splashes made by others who have long learnt that keeping the waters stirred is what keeps the heads of elected and public officials from sinking into a quagmire of sleaze and incompetence.
Every Ghanaian who has access to a radio will immediately recognise that the title of this piece is derived from the BBC World Service programme, Network Africa, which prides itself on being About Africa and for Africa.
The almost fanatical devotion that we all have for the BBC World Service is based on two simple premises:firstly, that it is an accurate and reliable source of well informed and balanced news and current affairs about Africa and the rest of the world; and secondly, we have lost faith and all hope about our own domestic service being able to get anywhere close to the “Beeb” in its coverage of our own national affairs.
And yet, it is only by speaking freely and frankly to each other about how we should organise and live our lives as Ghanaians in Ghana that we can improve ourselves and our conditions. Taking solace and comfort from what others do is a very poor and dangerous illusion which we have lived with for far too long and must banish forever now that we have broken the culture of broadcasting silence.
In my last piece, I suggested that the present clamor for independent broadcasting has a lot to do with the public’s perception of the failure of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation(GBC) to change its ways to suit the requirements of the new constitutional order in Ghana. In this of course, it is steering the same ‘continuity’ course as those who are at the helm of affairs.
Ghanaians have a very remarkable belief in the goodness of man and expectation that everyone who is put in a position of responsibility will do their duty in the manner expected of them. So if the 1992 Constitution provided the framework for promoting pluralism and freedom of expression, then naturally, we expected that our national broadcasting service would follow suit and do right by us.
Article 163 of the constitution states that “All state-owned media shall afford fair opportunities and facilities for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions”. In a historic landmark ruling, the Supreme Court has interpreted this to mean equal and fair access for the expression of divergent political and other views by the Governors and those who aspire to govern.
To give more elbow room to the GBC, the constitution has placed the National Media Commission as a shield between the state-owned media and the rulers, by charging the Commission “to insulate the state-owned media from government control”(Article 167(a).) So what more protection does the self-nominated and self-decorated Broadcaster of the Year need to make sure that we all have our licence-fee share on his mass communication facilities.?
For a country whose people like talking a lot about how their lives are managed, how is it that our dear “Geeb” has failed to put out a single regular programme on either radio or TV to afford the chosen representatives of our varying political persuasions to exchange ideas on how we could do things better here? And it is not as if there is a shortage of topics to get us excited and so hot under our collars that we will need to dip into the waters.
Where are we with the reforms to the SSS to improve the chances for our kids coming out with something tangible after the sweat and blood of finding the money to pay the fees? At any rate, why are we having to pay fees at all, if the constitution guarantees free basic education to a particular level? Can the others do better if offered the chance and how do we assess this if we don’t even know who speaks for them on what, never mind what ideas they have to persuade us to pass the baton on to them? I could go on and on with several hundred questions bugging Ghanaians just on the issue of education alone, never mind all the other matters.
It is important for the people in authority and their information lackeys to realise that we can never be hoodwinked or be made contented by a diet of stupefying foreign entertainment and more and more foreign sports unless this is set within a framework of an overall perception that we have paid due and sufficient attention to dealing with our own lives.
A close colleague of mine recently lamented the fact that the recent satellite tennis tournament in Accra received absolutely no coverage from either the radio or TV. And yet, we are now privileged and fortunate to watch many exciting foreign football matches live on our TV screens each week. And thank God we have been spared the ridiculous spectacle of having to listen to woes and sufferings of the kids on the ‘Big Apple’ block, when many of our own kids are leaving their classrooms to get straight onto the middle of the highways to sell dog-chains.
Why can’t we get D.S. Boateng’s ministry to tell us what they are doing, if anything at all, about helping these boys to find gainful work, or what is the sense of spending so much money in educating people to the university level if they simply fall onto the dole queue when they come out with their rolled honours. You see Mr. Anaglate, there is much you can do to help our nation come to terms with its myriad of concerns, rather than just singing us the official line about how rosy everything is, and if it isn’t well, seeking to convince us that we are not worse than others.
The early ‘vox-populi’ soundings we have conducted on the advent of Radio Eye confirms my view that people welcome it more for the opportunity of choice and hope for better information. Many of those we have spoken to have welcomed the better balance in favour of music as opposed to too much talk, although in the same breadth they have expressed a desire to have better balanced and more informed, if shorter, news and current affairs. Interestingly, many of the people we sampled have been full of praise for GBC’s “Good Morning Accra” programme, as offering a good avenue for them to air their views on local and national matters. The one reservation has been that there are usually no real decision makers to propose solutions or be grilled about why the problems persist. Another listener would have loved to have the choice of an alternative channel when GBC replaced his favourite drama programme with a nauseating report on the visit of Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings to America. You see, Ghanaians did not elect the lady to any public position, and simply being the President’s wife is not sufficient reason for us to have to have our evening’s fun spoiled by the going-ons of what was billed as a private study visit.
When we were young lads and lassies at school, we took great delight and looked forward to one lesson above all else, Civics and Current Affairs.’ This was an opportunity for all the “toonos’ to show off about how well versed and intimately they knew about the goings on here and elsewhere. Indeed, it was the height of ignorance if one could not reel off the names of every member of Government by heart, all of the Principal Secretaries of the various ministries, and other public big whigs. That was normal fare. The real icing on the cake was not that you knew that U Thant was the Secretary-General of the UN, but you could name all the Presidents of the World as well. Indeed, Bright Akwetey never stops to remind me that he whipped me by one point in the 1970 UNSA National Quiz, so I have to show respect and acknowledge his superior brain matter.
Oh, what a contrast today. I doubt if Civics is taught at all in the reformed educational programme. Maybe it is just as well if it is not, judging by my recent personal experience. I sent off my personal assistant to compile a list of all elected and appointed public officials identified in the 1992 Constitution.
I suggested he should first go to the Ministry of Information. Well, he drew a blank and was subjected to verbal assault and questioning of the motives for his request. Having drawn a blank at the most obvious place for getting it all in one, I asked him to do it the hard way, and go to every single place listed. Well, the reception was the same, with the one exception of the Chieftancy Affairs Adviser’s office, where we got total cooperation but had to pay for the stuff to be photocopied. So we who must know, still do not have a readily compiled source or handbook for knowing who our public officials are. If we the adults don’t know, which kids will be taught this . So let Totobi and Kojo spend a little of the change from the “Newsweek” expose to resume publication of the Ghana Year Book asap.
The first Article of our constitution says that “The Sovereignty of Ghana resides in the people of Ghana in whose name and for whose welfare the powers of government are to be exercised in the manner and within the limits laid down in this Constitution”. So we have the power and the right to be kept informed about how well those we have entrusted that power to are looking after our assets and our freedoms for us. In a country in which a substantial majority of its peoples are illiterate, the most important weapon for the people to be kept informed is the medium of radio & TV broadcasting. It is in recognition of this important need to inform, educate and entertain the people that public broadcasting corporations such as the GBC have sprung up all over the world and are allowed to take our money for the expressed purpose.
Independent Broadcasting in Ghana has come to stay and to add its contribution to the proper development and sustenance of this country’s efforts to promote pluralism and protection of essential freedoms as the key to democracy and development. It is an opportunity for both the independent broadcasters and the GBC to show that they are prepared to offer Ghanaians every opportunity and avenues to speak first onto themselves rather than always having to listen to others speak to us. Lord Reith, the first Director-General of the “Beeb”, and in whose honour the BBC instituted ‘the Reith Lectures’, believed that international broadcasting offered a unique opportunity for nations to speak truth onto each other. He of course, assumed that you could only speak truth to outsiders if you were doing so in your own back garden, which for him was to be taken for granted as the guiding principle for all broadcasters, especially in the public domain.
Let’s enjoy the freedom our constitutional framers have given to us to establish and operate independent mass media in this country. But of course, if we just use this freedom to create an “Against” clones of Anaglate, the people will just switch off again and get back to ‘About Africa and for Africa’. Stay tuned.
Source: Dr Wereko-Brobby